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Review: Optimizing ruminant conversion of feed protein to human food protein

  • G. A. Broderick (a1)

Ruminant livestock have the ability to produce high-quality human food from feedstuffs of little or no value for humans. Balanced essential amino acid composition of meat and milk from ruminants makes those protein sources valuable adjuncts to human diets. It is anticipated that there will be increasing demand for ruminant proteins in the future. Increasing productivity per animal dilutes out the nutritional and environmental costs of maintenance and rearing dairy animals up to production. A number of nutritional strategies improve production per animal such as ration balancing in smallholder operations and small grain supplements to ruminants fed high-forage diets. Greenhouse gas emission intensity is reduced by increased productivity per animal; recent research has developed at least one effective inhibitor of methane production in the rumen. There is widespread over-feeding of protein to dairy cattle; milk and component yields can be maintained, and sometimes even increased, at lower protein intake. Group feeding dairy cows according to production and feeding diets higher in rumen-undegraded protein can improve milk and protein yield. Supplementing rumen-protected essential amino acids will also improve N efficiency in some cases. Better N utilization reduces urinary N, which is the most environmentally unstable form of excretory N. Employing nutritional models to more accurately meet animal requirements improves nutrient efficiency. Although smallholder enterprises, which are concentrated in tropical and semi-tropical regions of developing countries, are subject to different economic pressures, nutritional biology is similar at all production levels. Rather than milk volume, nutritional strategies should maximize milk component yield, which is proportional to market value as well as food value when milk nutrients are consumed directly by farmers and their families. Moving away from Holsteins toward smaller breeds such as Jerseys, Holstein-Jersey crosses or locally adapted breeds (e.g. Vechur) would also reduce lactose production and improve metabolic, environmental and economic efficiencies. Forages containing condensed tannins or polyphenol oxidase enzymes have reduced rumen protein degradation; ruminants capture this protein more efficiently for meat and milk. Although these forages generally have lower yields and persistence, genetic modification would allow insertion of these traits into more widely cultivated forages. Ruminants will retain their niches because of their ability to produce valuable human food from low value feedstuffs. Employing these emerging strategies will allow improved productive efficiency of ruminants in both developing and developed countries.

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